January 11, 2011


People's Voice

By Liz Rowley

Across Ontario, Labour Councils and local unions are mobilizing for the "People vs US Steel Rally" being organized on January 29 by Local 1005 USW, whose 900 members and 9,000 Hamilton pensioners have been locked out since November 7.

Local 1005 President Rolf Gerstenberger says the union, the whole community and the country are under attack by this giant US transnational corporation. It's nation‑wrecking on the one hand, vs. the dignity and rights of workers to decent pensions and jobs on the other. It's everybody's issue, says Gerstenberger.

The Local is calling on supporters across Canada to pass motions in support of the locked out workers, and to get their unions to put buses on the road to Hamilton.

As he did for striking miners and smelterworkers in Sudbury last spring, and for the G8/G20 protests in Toronto last June, OFL President Sid Ryan is calling on the labour movement in Ontario to load up the buses. The OFL is working closely with Local 1005, the Hamilton and District Labour Council, and the CLC to make Jan. 29 one of the biggest rallies ever. The rally starts at 1 pm at Hamilton City Hall, followed by a march.

The immediate issue in the lock‑out is the Local's refusal to accept the de‑indexing of pensions affecting the living standards and purchasing power of 9,000 retirees. US Steel also wants to replace the defined benefit (DB) pension plan with a defined contribution plan - a jumped up RRSP-type savings plan that guarantees no income security to workers in their retirement years. But it does offer big savings ‑ and increased profits ‑ to companies which use pension funds to gamble on the stock markets. The winnings go to the coupon clippers, while the losses are always collected by pensioners, as Nortel Networks retirees know only too well.

The other big issue is Canadian sovereignty and control over the key sectors of the economy, and primary and secondary industry, and manufacturing in the first place. Two decades after the first Canada‑US free trade deal was signed, and since the foreign takeovers began in mining and steel, there is very little left in these industries that is not already foreign-owned or controlled. Further, these multi‑nationals are operating in Canada with virtually no controls.

In less than 10 years, Canada's steel industry has been completely taken over by foreign companies. Stelco in Hamilton was the last Canadian-owned steel company in the country. After a raid on the assets and pension plan by predators in bankruptcy proceedings, US Steel bought the plant three years ago, agreeing with Investment Canada to maintain employment and production levels in Hamilton. Almost immediately, the company began dismantling operations, laying off workers, banking coke ovens, moving equipment, and then shutting down the blast furnaces, which take months and millions of dollars to restart.

The union thinks US "Steal" has no intention of re‑starting the blast furnaces or any other part of basic steel production in Hamilton. US Steel's own documents in court proceedings admit to price fixing by reducing and then eliminating production in Canada.

It's become obvious that the real reason for the purchase of Stelco was to mothball the operations, turning Canada from a basic steel producer to a marketplace for US Steel products.

But the union is challenging that "future", demanding that governments take action to protect the city and community, its workers and retirees, and its industrial base.

Foreign ownership and monopoly control is the elephant in the room, and the union is demanding that federal and provincial governments act immediately to prosecute US Steel for price‑fixing and for reneging on its obligations under the purchase agreement.

The union also wants to maintain the previous collective agreement for another three years. That means the workers go back to work under the existing contract, and the company drops its pension demands.

But US Steel isn't having any of it. Nor are the federal or provincial governments. Collectively they would rather leave workers on the picket line, waiting them out like Vale Inco did for 12 months in Sudbury, and continues to do in Voisey's Bay. Meanwhile the profits continue to roll in south of the border, and a new blast furnace has started up state‑side as well.

Local 1005 is right: this fight won't be won at the bargaining table. It will take a whole community, and the whole labour movement to defeat US Steel, and all the other corporations waiting to see what happens in Hamilton.

The Communist Party fully supports the union's demands, and further, calls for the nationalization under public democratic control, of US Steel operations in Hamilton. Canada needs a domestic steel industry that's publicly owned and controlled, and able to produce steel needed to build an industrial base and strategy for Canada, and industrial, manufacturing and construction jobs for Canadians. If there was any doubt before, the actions of US Steel in Hamilton are the proof of this today.

The CPC is also calling on the provincial government to compel US Steel to return to the bargaining table to negotiate an early and just settlement with Local 1005.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular stories